Today we’re going to touch-on the skills, abilities, and techniques that NFL scouts tend to look for when they’re scouting centers.
As in the past, the list of skills and abilities that we’re going to look at will come from some extremely credible sources; a 3-time Super Bowl Champion head coach, a gentleman with nearly 30 years of scouting experience at the NFL level, and a man with 17 years experience coaching at a major D1 program.
Of course, I’m speaking of the late-great Bill Walsh, Greg Gabriel from the National Football Post, and Bill Conley, from Scouts Inc.
If you want to check out their articles on on your own, check out Bill Walsh’s How I Evaluate Each Position: Center, Gabriel’s Scouting the Offensive Line from the National Football Post, and an article from Espn.com by Bill Conley entitled Mobility a hallmark of top 2009 interior offensive linemen, which discusses many of the things personnel look for in o-linemen.
I don’t think their articles were meant to be comprehensive, so I added a few traits and attributes to the list that they didn’t mention.
Size. Gabriel’s ideal center stands between 6-2 and 6-4, and he said he hardly ever seeks centers that are shorter than 6-2. Coach Walsh’s ideal size for a center is 6-2, 290. Coach Walsh on why NFL center’s tend to be shorter than the other players on the o-line:
Being shorter helps you do a great number of things in a very small area. A big body just becomes a hindrance. It’s like a jockey weighing more than 150 pounds. You need a center who is so quick that he can move in between people. Shorter guys can do that better than taller, rangy guys.
Strength. Gabriel on why center’s have to be strong:
…the center has to be a powerful man who can get movement with his run block. Often, the nose tackle he is up against is the largest man on the defense so he has to find a way to move this guy.
Footwork. I’ve heard some say that footwork is the most important factor in being a great
Ability to block d-tackles one-on-one. This isn’t a necessity, but as Coach Walsh explains, centers that can hold their own against defensive tackles help their teammates out tremendously:
Centers don’t often have to block one-on-one with the nose tackle, but if they can it is a great advantage. You typically slide a lineman or find a way to help the center. Or he finds a way to help someone else. Now if you have a center who can isolate one-on-one with a nose tackle, it takes tremendous pressure off your guards and everyone else.
Lateral movement/agility. The best centers are agile enough to change direction in pass protection. They’re athletic, and have the lateral agility necessary to get to their assignments when they’re asked to pull or trap in their run-blocking assignments.
Explosion. There’s not a place on the football field where you don’t need to be explosive.
Ability to pull and trap. Pulling and trapping is something center’s gotta be able to do. You’ll find that the center’s that are best at this are about to get out of their stance quickly and are able to slide-step to get in position to trap or pull when they’re asked to.
Use of hands. Bill Conley broke the analysis of this trait down to three questions:
Do they get separation? Can they keep defenders away from them? Do they play with good leverage?
Knee bend. I know I mentioned knee bend in the run blocking technique section, but it’s so important to scouts, I’m talking about it again. Regardless of whether you’re talking about run or pass blocking, scouts look for natural knee benders. Gabriel what he looks for in a natural knee bender, and why it’s so important:
Straight-legged players have a tendency to bend at the waist and fall off of blocks. A good knee bender will keep his back straight and have a very good base and balance.
Run blocking technique. When it comes to run blocking, scouts want to see the center’s back flat, with low pad level. They want “natural benders” that bend at their knees, not just at their waists. Being labeled a waist bender is a guaranteed way to drop your draft stock.
Scouts look for centers that consistently control defenders at the point of attack, and maintain leverage, control, and balance throughout the block.
Observing the Skills In-Action
Former Dallas Cowboys’ center Andre Gurode has the strength you wanna see in an NFL center. Around the :50 mark in the video, they show play after play how well this guy anchors and holds his ground.
At 6-4, 318, he definitely meets Gabriel’s height requirements.
Check out his footwork at the :22 mark. His feet got a little too wide at the snap of the ball, but his feet remain square to the line of scrimmage, and he keeps his weight on the balls of his feet. His steps are small, his steps backwards are small, and never exceed 6 inches or so. Pretty good footwork.
At the 1:30 mark, watch how he shuts down the Falcons’ tackle one-on-one, with no help. Coach Sparano actually mentions his ability to handle tackles one-on-one.
Andre moves well in space and moves good laterally for a man his size. At the 1:38 mark, check out how fast he goes from putting a shoulder on the tackle, to engaging with the db at the second level.
Andre is one of the “natural benders” that scouts look for. At the 2:48 mark, look at how he’s bending at the knees, with his back flat… text book run-blocking technique. His pass protection technique is
solid, too. At the 2:55 mark, check out how his knees remain bent, weight forward, straight back, and his weight on the balls of his feet.
He’s good with his hands as well. At the 2:53 mark, take a look at his hands; they remain inside the hands and on the breastplate of the defensive lineman.
(Ignore the dude talking over the video, if you can.)
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